5. HOOBASTANK, “THE REASON” (2009)
The music video for this deeply loathsome song features Hoobastank’s band members breaking into a pawnshop to steal what is conveniently labeled as the “Chiara Star Ruby” (but actually looks more like something you’d find in a Cracker Jack box) while a woman pretends to have been hit by a car outside to distract attention. Low expectations are a part of the game when you name your band Hoobastank, but “The Reason” manages to set a new standard for whininess and insipidity. This is the song that a fraternity brother would write to his girlfriend the morning after getting drunk and sleeping with her best friend. It begins with the singer showing becoming modesty—hey, he isn’t a perfect person!—and then proceeding to guilt-trip the girl with his laments about having to live with having hurt her. The song reeks of insincerity, desperation and liquor.
Lomax: “Just hearing that mewled "I'm not a per-fect per-son" sets my skin crawling, and then these SoCal lunkheads just take this grotesque power ballad higher and higher into the stratosphere of ick. I'm not a perfect person. There's many things I wish I didn't do. But I continue learning. I never meant to do those things to you. Doesn't it sound like something a temporarily remorseful wife-beater would sing? And were you shocked when he said "the reason is you!"? Actually it sounds more like "the reason is yoe" which is yet another thing that absolutely disgusts me about this nasty morsel of tripe. Oh yeah, the video is dumb too.”
4. JAMES BLUNT, “YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL” (2004)
Nietzsche once wrote that “for an event to possess greatness two things must come together: greatness of spirit in those who accomplish it and greatness of spirit in those who experience it.” The corollary to this observation is that for an event (in our case, a song) to possess badness requires badness in those who sing it and badness in those who hear it. And with that, I cede the floor to a few of the 31,530 YouTube commentators on the music video for James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”:
Grubby Grundle: “This video made me cold at the beginning. Time to crawl into a warm bed!”
Julia Donley: “This song really makes me think, there is someone I love who I know will not love me back, even though he makes me fell warm inside when he smiles.”
Bella Vampyre: “One of my fav songs of all time. Love the viideo as well…A certain realism and depth of feeling in this one.”
Sean Cothrine: “just wana say if you are reading this…your beautiful…regardless.”
Franciomar Mendes: “This song Its my life!”
Lomax: “Sounds like some kind of cloven-footed animal in distress, but which one? A goat? Llama? Alpaca perhaps? I wish that he had jumped off the cliff at the beginning of the video instead of the end.”
Shilcutt: “This song is the auditory equivalent of the ‘nice guy’ who can’t figure out that the reason he never gets any dates is because he’s actually a creeper, and instead of addressing this underlying creepiness decides to be perpetually angry about being ‘friendzoned.’"
3. CREED, “WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN” (1999)
Okay, this was technically released in 1999, but it's so bad that I made an exception for it. The bombastic pathos of this song is perfectly matched by its music video, which begins with lead singer Scott Stapp sitting on a rock at the top of a green-screened mountain, watching CGI lightning flash across the sky. Singing in the deep, manly-man chest voice favored by alternative rockers like Metallica’s James Hetfield and Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell (and which is really just a different kind of falsetto), Stapp enacts the lyrics with hilarious literalism, opening his arms and looking towards heaven as he sings “With arms wide open / Under the sunlight.”
Unfortunately, when he gets up from the rock to take a stroll, meteors begin raining down around him—it looks like an early special effects test shot for Deep Impact—so he takes shelter in a building that resembles nothing so much as Sauron’s Dark Tower in Lord of the Rings. But there’s no safety in the Dark Tower either: a bell comes crashing down, punching a hole in the floor to reveal a hidden, Raiders of the Lost Ark–type cave. There, our intrepid spelunker discovers what appears to be a subterranean jacuzzi, in which he naturally proceeds to baptize himself. The video ends with Stapp back on a mountaintop, reaching up to heaven—with, you guessed it, arms wide open.
Shilcutt: “I once had painfully awkward sex in my car with a waiter at this Mexican restaurant I was working at in college. This song was playing on repeat (which, granted, only had to repeat twice before the encounter was over). It remains one of the worst memories of my life, one which I’m afraid will remain with me until I die.”
2. John Mayer, “Waiting on the World to Change” (2006)
Say what you want about “Your Body is a Wonderland,” at least it was a reasonably accurate reflection of Mayer’s personality—namely, a perpetually stoned, incorrigible horndog. “Waiting on the World to Change” is a protest song that doesn’t protest anything, a political statement that has no politics and makes no statement beyond conveying a general sense that bad things are happening in the world, and that those things should, like, stop happening—hopefully on their own, because we sure aren’t going to do anything. Mayer begins by complaining that people “say we stand for nothing and there’s no way we ever could,” and then spends the rest of the song proving those people right. The lyrics basically boil down to a series of convenient excuses for doing nothing: 1. Politicians are powerful. 2. We are not powerful. 3. The media is lying. 4. It’s not a fair fight.
Woody Guthrie this guy is not. The music video features Mayer strolling along the East River looking wistful, while elsewhere in New York a group of ethnically mixed graffiti artists are running around spray-painting billboards. Fortunately, they’re all wearing gas masks—safety first, people!. Lest we worry that Mayer’s would-be revolutionaries actually broke any laws—quelle horreur—a sign at the end of the video informs us that “All murals were produced on private property by commissioned artists.” This is how the world ends: not with a bang but a disclaimer.
Lomax: “Milquetoast funk, lite ‘protest,’ vanilla everything. If the best of Sly and the Family Stone makes you want to assemble and bring down the Man via a multiethnic, twin-gendered gang of armored car robbers, this song makes you want to consider signing a Facebook petition to modify the rules of your HOA.
Shilcutt: “Some people see a box full of treacly marzipan treats and see a beautiful, sugar-trimmed wonderland. Some people want to vomit at the mere idea of marzipan. John Mayer is marzipan.”
1. Brad Paisley and LL Cool J, “Accidental Racist" (2013)
Although we’re only 14 years in, this song is on the inside track to becoming the worst song of the entire century. “Ill-advised” would be the kindest way to describe Paisley’s collaboration with LL Cool J—“calamitous” or “criminally moronic” would be more accurate. The song begins with Paisley walking into a Starbucks (pro tip to songwriters: never, ever set a song in a Starbucks) wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt featuring a Confederate flag. When he places his order, Paisley comes face to face with a black barista, which makes the singer so flustered that he begins mixing metaphors faster than the barista can mix a Frappuccino: “The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the South / And I just walked him right in the room / Just a proud rebel son with a whole can of worms.” Got it? That’s a Southern elephant walking into the corner of the room with a can of worms.
Paisley goes on over the course of the song to walk on eggshells, pick up the pieces, sift through the rubble, put himself in the barista’s shoes, and even try to walk a mile in the barista’s skin—the last two of which seem a little unfair to the barista, who probably needs his shoes and his skin more than Paisley. But the song truly takes a turn for the bizarre with the entrance of LL Cool J, who assures Paisley that “just because my pants are saggin’ doesn’t mean I’m up to no good” and apologizes that he can’t be a slave even though “I want you to get paid.” What’s the solution to this racial tension? LL has the answer: “I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air.” Nothing like a bit of conversating to overcome a few centuries of “misunderstandings” (a.k.a., slavery and racism).
Paisley and LL then proceed to stage their own personal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with LL presenting Paisley with a series of increasingly unbalanced offers, in which, for example, Paisley agrees not to judge LL’s do-rag if LL won’t judge Paisley’s red flag, and that if Paisley doesn’t judge LL’s gold chains, LL will forget about the iron chains. If I were Paisley, I’d say that’s a pretty damn good deal. LL ends up admitting that “the relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin’” (which makes no sense, but why let that stand in the way of a good rhyme?) and agrees to “let bygones be bygones,” even giving a shout-out to Robert E. Lee (!). To my infinite regret, this song has no video.
Shilcutt: “The fact that the nonsense word ‘conversate’ is used in the lyrics is somehow the least offensive thing about this song.”